Two soldiers were killed and three others wounded in fighting Thursday with FARC guerrillas in the mountains around Jamundi, a city in the southwestern Colombian province of Valle del Cauca, military spokesmen said.

The clashes started in the early morning hours in La Esperanza, a village outside Jamundi, which is about 19 kilometers (11.8 miles) from Cali, the capital of Valle del Cauca.

The fighting started when troops in an advance unit were taking "offensive action" against Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, guerrillas, army 3rd Brigade commander Col. Luis Edgar Cifuentes said.

The guerrillas "murdered two soldiers," Cifuentes said, adding that three other troops were wounded by shrapnel.

The rebels belong to the FARC's Miller Perdomo Mobile Column, which operates in the area south of Cali, Cifuentes said.

The FARC, Colombia's oldest and largest leftist guerrilla group, was founded in 1964, has an estimated 8,000 fighters and operates across a large swath of this Andean nation.

The Colombian government has made fighting the FARC a top priority and has obtained billions in U.S. aid for counterinsurgency operations.

The FARC, whose leader is Alfonso Cano, has suffered a series of setbacks in recent years.

The FARC's military chief, Jorge Briceño Suarez, known as "Mono Jojoy," was killed in an airstrike on Sept. 23, 2010.

On July 2, 2008, the Colombian army rescued former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, U.S. military contractors Thomas Howes, Keith Stansell and Marc Gonsalves, and 11 other Colombian police officers and soldiers.

The FARC had been trying to trade the 15 captives, along with 25 other "exchangeables," for hundreds of jailed guerrillas.

The rebels' most valuable bargaining chip was Betancourt, a dual Colombian-French citizen the FARC seized in February 2002 whose plight became a cause celebre in Europe.

FARC founder Manuel Marulanda, who was known as "Sureshot," died on March 26, 2008.

Three weeks earlier, Colombian forces staged a cross-border raid into Ecuador, killing FARC second-in-command Raul Reyes and setting off a regional diplomatic crisis.

Ivan Rios, a high-level FARC commander, was killed that same month by one of his own men, who cut off the guerrilla leader's hand and presented it to army troops, along with identification documents, as proof that the rebel chief was dead.

A succession of governments have battled Colombia's leftist insurgent groups since the mid-1960s.

In 1999, then-President Andres Pastrana allowed the creation of a Switzerland-sized "neutral" zone in the jungles of southern Colombia for peace talks with the FARC.

After several years of fitful and ultimately fruitless negotiations, Pastrana ordered the armed forces to retake the region in early 2002. But while the arrangement lasted, the FARC enjoyed free rein within the zone.

The FARC is on both the U.S. and EU lists of terrorist groups. Drug trafficking, extortion and kidnapping-for-ransom are the FARC's main means of financing its operations.